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Why these reviews?

I’m aware that the books I review on this blog are a pretty weird bunch. I don’t know if any of you read all of them, or if you simply use the ones that are in your wheelhouse. But if you’ve ever wondered why I review what I do, this is why.

I’m an indie writer. Four or five years ago I started reviewing indie fiction for Big Al and Pals, the premier review site for indie work. Suddenly a lot of indie books from all sorts of genres from SF through (a lot of) fantasy to YA and literary fiction started coming to my notice, not just from Big Al. Because I write books that hover at the fringes I am interested in seeing what other hoverers are writing. And I have a mind that flits and sips like a butterfly. Boredom is my enemy.

I don’t do horror, I don’t do soppy kissing, and I’m usually bored by police procedurals. I enjoy genre mash-ups, as a rule. And I will read anything else, if it is well-written. I check that with a Kindle sample before I start. If I become too disappointed as the book unfolds I stop reading. Simples.

If the book merits a 3* review or better I will review it. I don’t give shitty reviews, but I do speak as I find. So if (for example) your punctuation is a mess, or you have a massive plothole, I will say so.  Because you can fix those problems, right? And you should. Your reader deserves the best you can do.

I know Indies often can’t afford an editor. And I have seen some ‘professionally edited’ work that made me weep for the poor sucker who had paid good money for bad service. So if we all help each other, we make better books. Which is better for everyone.

And what, you may ask, makes me such a know-it-all when it comes to reviewing books? I taught creative writing at university level for eight years. Doing that, I learned a lot about my own writing and writing in general – what makes stories flow, what gives them pace; what makes stories flabby or hard to follow; what punctuation is helpful to sense and what gets in the way.  And, of course, I had to find a way to express that – tactfully and helpfully – to students. Circumstances insisted that I stop teaching. But this is what I bring to reviewing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Two modern fantasy novellas by Annie Bellet

Justice Calling: The Twenty-Sided Sorceress, Book 1 and Murder of Crows: The Twenty-Sided Sorceress, Book 2

Justice Calling (The Twenty-Sided Sorceress Book 1) by [Bellet, Annie]Murder of Crows (The Twenty-Sided Sorceress Book 2) by [Bellet, Annie]

There is an interesting genre developing which I call modern fantasy. There are no swords or sandals, no dragons or fairies – but there are beings drawn from the many myths and legends of our world, mashed together, and set down in the twenty-first century with a unique set of life skills and problems, and magic. Fresh and interesting fiction often results. As with these.

The Twenty-Sided Sorceress is a Native American, disowned by her family, living on top of a powerful congruence of ley lines in the middle of rural USA with a small community of shapeshifters. She runs a gaming shop. It is giving away nothing you won’t learn early on to add that she is in hiding from her ex, who is a powerful demon keen to absorb her powers to add to his own. How come we never notice that the gorgeous sexy ones are demons until … ? Oh, well.

These are little books. The genre seems to lend itself to novella length work. I also enjoy the fiction of Lynne Cantwell and Melissa Bowerstock, who work in this sort of genre and at much the same length. Ghost Walk (A Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud Mystery Book 1) by [Bowersock, Melissa]

Seized (The Pipe Woman Chronicles Book 1)

Bellet has many books listed on The Zons, and is up to number 9 in this series. So if you get hooked there is plenty of material to enjoy. She describes herself as “author, gamer, nerd” – so she writes, as it were, where she lives. Presumably without the shapeshifting neighbours.

I have served my turn with Dungeons and Dragons, thrown many  dice with more than six faces, and given myself RSI playing video games. I have brought innumerable cups of tea to someone lovingly painting cold-cast metal figures with teeny-tiny brushes. It might help with the enjoyment of this series if you have also done these things, or feel you might someday do so. But the action lies outside these interests, with inexplicable forces in the wilds of America .

And there is plenty of action. The books may be short, but not a page is wasted. Bellet gets right into the action and doesn’t stop until the tale is told. There are gruesome bits; very funny bits (never easy to do well); and a bit of romance, which succeeded in that it did not make me yell ‘too much soppy kissing!’ at any point. After all, even a shapeshifter needs a mate.

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Dear followers …

I am delighted that you think enough of my posts to follow what I post on this blog.

I’m hoping we can agree that as you have chosen to entrust me with the small amount of personal information that enables you to receive notification about new posts here that this is sufficient for me to be in compliance with the new GDPR legislation.

If you disagree, you have only to unfollow.

Right – boring business out of the way. Here’s a picture I took at West Bay recently.

Much more fun 🙂                                                                                                                                 100_4802

Review: ‘Flash Point’ by Paul Adam

I am a big fan of Paul Adam. His two ‘history and mystery’ books in which the central mysteries concern Cremona violins are first rate. And I see he has recently released a third.

One of the great things about Adam is that he writes about all kinds of things – always thrillers of one kind or another, but what kind varies widely from book to book.

This time Adam posits that the Dalai Lama has died. Actually, that delightful personage (now 85) is still alive and well and living in Dharamsala, India. The book concerns the search for his reincarnation. And it is good stuff.

I have had some small contact with the monks of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery (also Tibetan, also sadly in exile). If ever you get a chance to see the fund-raising show that they tour round Britain – go! It is an evening you will never forget. If I was more patient and ate less meat I might try to become a Buddhist. Sadly it also requires a lot of kneeling, and my knees are shot … But I digress.

The title is hopeless: Flash Point – it tells you nothing about the content. The cover gives a hint. But really, unless you read a review (coughs modestly) there is no clue as to the good stuff within.

Buddhist monks believe that when a lama dies he is reincarnated at once elsewhere in the world. When this happens they seek guidance from oracles, and go and find him. The reincarnated Dalai Lama is born in Tibet – where Buddhist monks are not welcome or safe. (Indeed, our current Dalai Lama has said that the next will ‘probably’ be born in India: much safer.) News of the death quickly leaks. The Chinese occupying forces in Tibet are eager to find the baby first, or to find a child of their own to impose on the Tibetans.

Four monks set out at once to search for the child. They start in Lhasa. Maggie Walsh, a photo-journalist, is there to see how the news of the death is received by Tibetans. The Chinese are expecting trouble and expelling all westerners. Maggie goes into hiding.

The monks from Dharamsala and Maggie gravitate towards the Tibetan resistance in Lhasa. Once together they find they need each other. There is a terrific story here, which Maggie is determined to document. The monks find that her contacts are necessary to get them out of Lhasa. Thereafter they travel together. The Chinese are close behind them. Winter is closing in. It is a breathless chase, the tension rising with each short chapter: from Maggie’s perspective, from that of the monks, from the Chinese Gong An Ju and PSB personnel involved.

Even if you are not enthralled by Buddhism, this is a pacy and unusual thriller which I recommend to you whole-heartedly.

There are some scenes of torture which you can skip.

Review: ‘Mayan Star’ by Howard Allan

MAYAN STAR by [Howard Allan]This is my sort of book. Indeed, I am writing one myself (faraway in time and place from this one, I should add). This is the sort of book my friend Glenna calls a ‘history and mystery’. An Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, Dan Brown sort of mystery, with its basis in history or legend, that has missing artefacts attached to it, which artefacts are then hunted for while the hunters are themselves hunted. The genre is substantial, and usually the results are weak. Mostly the authors have done insufficient work on the historical aspect and instead concentrated on the hunting, which lets them down because it is not a USP. A chase is a chase is a chase … The best in the genre identify a genuine potential historical conundrum and play with it, which is what Howard Allan has done with this.

The historical bones are that the Mayans created a number of codices. We don’t know what they contained (which begets the necessary what-if possibilities) because when the Spanish invaded they destroyed them, concurrently suppressing the Mayan religion and imposing their own Roman Catholicism. Allan develops a lucid and plausible reason for the content and destruction of the codices. One more is found. Word gets out. The hunters gather.

The book begins with murder in the Yucatan of modern Mexico – which is an amazingly violent place, according to this book. I warn you that the methods Allan permits his local drug lord to use to dispose of those who cross him may turn your stomach. They did mine.

However, I persevered because not only is the McGuffin good, the plotting and characters are also well above the usual standard for this genre, and the tension is ratcheted up admirably as the story unfolds. The lapsed rabbi, who is the main narrator, is a delight of wit and quirks, courage and cowardice, love and lust. The doctor who runs a local women’s clinic is another narrator from whom one is always pleased to hear. The local policeman tries valiantly to do an honest job in the face of systemic corruption – which may be a cliché, but in this case seems both accurate and well-drawn. Even that local drug lord has an internal logic.

By the way – I see this book has been reported for typos on amazon. I did not find as many as I have had to wade through this year in other books self-published, from small press publishers, and from mainstream publishers. Perhaps they have been fixed. Perhaps the complainer has an even lower tolerance for such irritants than I do myself. The last sub-editor seems to have expired and proof readers are as rare as cuckoos. Sadly, I have also seen work published which has apparently had an editor’s input but which might have been better without it. Sigh. If you are a writer, you absolutely have to teach yourself to edit these days.

 

Review: ‘Blood Ties’ by Peter Taylor-Gooby

Blood Ties by [Peter  Taylor-Gooby]

I enjoyed this a lot. It is not that often that one comes across a book which is a light read but which also has something important to say. Nor is it common to come across something as well written and complex as this published in the indie sector. This is certainly one of my top five books so far this year (and there has been plenty of time for reading …)

The writing is assured and supple, and capable of telling a complicated tale. The tale it tells is of a modern dystopia ‘a couple of years from now’. But elements of this story are with us already. The story is immigration, the banning of it, the sending home of ‘illegals’, the modern slavery which is certainly with us already, and how we might replace the labour that’s being deported.

Does this sound a bit worthy? A bit heavy going? Not a bit of it. The story is light on its feet. The reader is treated to plenty of satire and irony in the thoughts, words and deeds of the narrator-protagonist, who is an ad-man. Ad-men see opportunity in everything. And this one is very good at what he does. Some of the aphorisms and insights are delicious. such as: “ … they want to understand the world but that’s not enough. If you ask them, they’ll tell you they want to change it. What they really most desire is to play with it, and they’re very serious about their play.” Or “ Ordinary people are like children. So … easily misguided. And they forget so quickly.” And there are some great slogans (as you might expect from a really good ad-man) such as “A job you care for, that cares for you.”

As well as Ritchie Morlan, the ad-man, the most rounded character is his daughter Nic. Ritchie would do absolutely anything for her. Nic is one of those people who always have a cause in hand, who have boundless energy if it’s on behalf of other people. Neither she nor her father are particularly likeable people – but they are demonstrably well-meaning and utterly believable. During the course of the book Ritchie’s status goes from high-flying creative at a top advertising agency to unemployed activist, to advisor to the country’s new Prime Minister. Nic’s goes from legal representative of a woman about to be deported, to debating a people trafficker on Facebook, to jail on conspiracy charges. Between them they achieve the most extraordinary outcome.

Could any of what this novel posits actually happen here? I like a book that raises questions, don’t you? And Taylor-Gooby isn’t afraid to provide answers to the questions he poses.

Review: ‘The Blues Don’t Care (Bobby Saxon Book 1)’ by Paul D Marks

Genre: Crime

Description: A huge McGuffin inhabits this story, which is why I have used the Amazon ‘blurb’ supplied by the publisher so as not to brush against it accidentally and tip the whole thing over.

the Amazon blurb says “Bobby Saxon lives in a world that isn’t quite ready for him. He’s the only white musician in an otherwise all-black swing band at the famous Club Alabam in Los Angeles during World War II—and that isn’t the only unique thing about him…

And if that isn’t enough to deal with, in order to get a permanent gig with the band, Bobby must first solve a murder that one of the band members is falsely accused of in that racially prejudiced society.”

Bobby Saxon has previously appeared in three of Paul’s published stories – ‘Sleepy Lagoon Nocturne’, from the anthology Landmarked for Murder, ‘The Good Old Days’, in the anthology Murder Across the Map, and ‘Santa Claus Blues’, from Futures Magazine.

Author: Paul D. Marks is a Los Angeles native, and loves the city that LA used to be. His former day job was as a screenplay “script doctor”. He is one of the last people to have shot a film on the famous MGM backlot before it was torn down.

He is the author of over thirty published short stories, which, he says, run the gamut from serious fiction to mystery and satire. They include several award winners. This is his second novel. A complete list of his publications is on his website, www.PaulDMarks.com

Appraisal: So, what’s the best thing about this novel? The author is a native of LA and it shows. He is very knowledgeable about its history, its architecture, its people. The city is a vibrant character in its own right. The time in which the book is set is evocative. The bands, the huge boom in business, the early days of the consumer society, the cars, the segregation, Hollywood and the stars who worked there, the gangsters, the music – it’s all here. Many famous names are dropped: many famous watering holes of the time make an appearance. There is much about the war and what the conscripts may be facing overseas. Period detail is very good indeed.

Unfortunately the plot of the book is a crime and investigation of same (by Saxon) which are too slight to carry its 400 or so pages. Because of this The Blues Don’t Care is rather a baggy book, proceeding at a leisurely pace to a series of similar denouements.

You are most likely to enjoy this book if you prefer character-driven fiction. Saxon is a complex character and he is the heart of the book: everything else is there to give him something to do.

Format/Typo Issues: I was working from an e-ARC, so presume the typos etc which I came across will be corrected before the book is released.

**Review originally prepared for ‘Big Al & Pals’ **

**Received a complimentary e-copy **

Review: ‘Resort to Murder’ by T P Fielden

Resort to Murder: A must-read vintage crime mystery (A Miss Dimont Mystery, Book 2) by [TP Fielden]

I was loaned this by a neighbour who happened to have a hardback copy of it (with a gorgeous dust jacket and scarlet endpapers) put out by HQ, which is a newish imprint of HarperCollins.

On the cover it says ‘death stalks the beaches of Devon’ (it means south Devon – and is responsible for my lovely neighbour now believing that Lyme Regis has shuffled across the border from Dorset). I live on the south coast of Dorset and have familial links to Devon’s Riviera, so its Devon-ness was an attraction

This is the second ‘Miss Dimont mystery’: it is a cosy mystery – not my usual sort of read. But almost any genre is readable if it is well-written. And this is.

A little research into T P Fielden, reveals him to be Christopher Wilson, a newspaper and television journalist who in 2016 got a four book deal from HQ to write this series of novels featuring Miss Dimont. This is the second.

The characters are good. The locations are luscious (Temple Regis is fictional, the rest are a mixture of the fictional and real places in south Devon). The book is set on the cusp of the Sixties. The war still looms large from the recent past, but pop music is on the horizon. A major strand is the seaside beauty pageant: it does not get an easy ride.

Fielden is obviously fond of the Devon Riviera, although his tongue often strays into his cheek. And unless his research has been really extensive, remembers fondly the days of which he writes.

Miss Dimont is chief reporter of the local weekly paper, The Riviera Express. This does not jive with my memories of work available to women in the Seventies, let alone the Sixties. But Miss Dimont is an unusual woman. She has unusual women friends. They did unusual things in the war (that they can’t talk about, even at a remove of some 15 years).

Two violent deaths occur during the book. One could be an accident. The other could be suicide. Or maybe not. The way Miss Dimont and her apprentice, Valentine Ford, work the clues to find out the truth is credible and consistently interesting.

There is a McGuffin with which I take issue, in Chapter 26 – but I cannot go into detail without dropping in a major spoiler. It involves seamanship. See if you spot it when you get there.

There is a whoopsie which somebody should’ve caught before publication, also in Chapter 26 when ‘Armstrong’ (confusingly) becomes ‘Wetherby’. On the whole, however, this is a well produced book. (Something that is not, these days, a given – even with a major publishing house.)

I defy you not to be entranced by the Chinese Singing Master.

I see all four Miss Dimont books are now available.

Review: ‘Mansfield Park Revisited’ by Merryn Williams

Mansfield Park Revisited by [Merryn Williams]

Jane Austen died two years after Waterloo, and her fame has increased steadily since. That fame is based on a mere six novels, of which Mansfield Park is by far the longest.

Enthusiasm for Austen’s work continues unabated. Last year brought us the eight-part dramatisation of her final, unfinished novel Sanditon. Gill Hornby has recently published Miss Austen, a fictionalised treatment of Jane’s life with her sister Cassandra. A new ‘complete novels’ was published in May this year, as was a new edition of Mansfield Park made to look like an early nineteenth century original. You can’t move for fresh takes on Jane Austen.

And here is another interesting and innovative addition to the genre. Merryn Williams has form when it comes to reimagining Austen. In 2011 she completed a well-received novella of The Watsons, a manuscript which Austen abandoned in 1805 having written 17,500 words.

For this project Williams has taken the complexities of Mansfield Park, updated them to the present day, and laid them out in a tempting and readable 136 pages. (Mansfield Park runs out at around 525 pages, depending which of the many editions you get.)

Williams declares “the characters are Jane Austen’s but the interpretation is mine.” However, Williams has also recast and slightly repurposed the characters to suit her modern treatment. The Price contingent in Plymouth are splendidly twenty-first century hapless. Lady Bertram is as deliciously vague as a politician, avoiding all tough questions; Sir Thomas Bertram acquires a nationally renowned collection of cacti.

Much of the original upon which this novella is based is so completely of its time (Napoleonic Wars, abolition of slavery) that moving it forward to the present day would seem fraught with potential pitfalls. Williams has found entertaining and plausible alternatives for anachronisms, while keeping the spirit of the original. I hope it is not giving away too much to note that Franny’s eventual success is not marriage, but the freedom to pursue a career she loves (praise be!).

It is notoriously difficult to keep the cast of characters straight in one’s mind with Mansfield Park. Helpfully, Williams has supplied both a list of chapters and what they contain, and a list of characters and who they are related to.

I believe it is intended that Mansfield Park Revisited might be a good introduction to Austen’s original for young adults. This is certainly the case. Just don’t attempt a GCSE exam on the original book from this entertaining update. The Jaguar and the cacti will lead you astray!

There is a persistent error which I must mention. It appears to have somehow become part of the publisher’s house style that punctuation is consistently placed outside closing speech marks, unless the punctuation is a ! or a ?

! and ? indeed …

Review: ‘We Have Met The Enemy’ by Felicia Watson

We Have Met the Enemy by [Felicia Watson]

The title of this book is a quote which in full reads “we have met the enemy and he is us”. It first occurred (as is vouchsafed towards the end of the book) in Walt Kelly’s Pogo cartoon, an award-winning strip syndicated in American newspapers between 1948 and 1975. In the novel Walt Kelly is described as a twentieth century philosopher. Like it.

To business. This is a well-constructed space opera, with a nod to the film of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (it has its gruesome bits early on, but is not as relentlessly bloody). The world-building is convincing: considerable care has obviously gone into this, yet it doesn’t feel heavy handed. Society, too, has been carefully constructed as egalitarian. Watson is clever about how such a society could be achieved but, again, the thought and research is lightly worn. The plot is both linear (a quest) and circular (as the title promises) but is laid out effectively and is easy to follow.

The title of this book is a quote which in full reads “we have met the enemy and he is us”. It first occurred (as is vouchsafed towards the end of the book) in Walt Kelly’s Pogo cartoon, an award-winning strip syndicated in American newspapers between 1948 and 1975. In the novel Walt Kelly is described as a twentieth century philosopher. Like it.

Deck and her shipmates are sent to look for the origins of their enemy in a long-running war. The enemy – who are immortal – can infect and transform humans into themselves (this information too is given early doors so not much of a spoiler). The theory is that once the enemy must have been human themselves.

What they find is well thought through, interesting and exciting. The denouement is not what I was expecting. The pace, as soon as the Lovelace leaves space dock is excellent.

The main protagonist, Naiche Decker (“Deck”) is a wild child whose hero mother died far too young. She has been living in the shadow of this heroic, missing, mother since before puberty and has not responded well to that state of affairs. Deck is difficult to love – not only for the other characters in the book but also, for much of the book, for the reader – though she does have a few staunch friends. As the book unfolds we see the depths of Deck’s pain, her life, her skills and talents and her eventual evolution to a place where she can live more at ease with herself and others.

There are longueurs in the opening chapter (where at one point the grain of a wooden table is described), but this contemplative opening soon gives way to action. The reader quickly gets the point that Deck is a loose cannon, and wonders what will happen when a new use is found for her skills and talents. How she doesn’t get court-martialled I do not know, as she is cocky, wilful and rude to superiors. Her ‘hero’s journey’ is a long and difficult one, but the payoff is commensurate.

Each chapter has a title which is a portion of a longer quote. These quotes range broadly (from Sun Tzu to Lillie Langtry). Each is appropriate and increases the reader’s understanding. If the author is this well read, I salute her. If she found them by googling I am almost as impressed. A couple of the authors of these quotes are attributed oddly, and one is wrong (It is Albert Pike, not Pine whose quote heads Chapter 16), but this is to quibble.

NB: There is an ongoing problem with the paperback of this book on AmazonUK, where it is misrepresented as “X-Future Women Full Coverage Lace Straps Minimizer Seamless No Underwire Bra”. Weird. (I have reported the incorrect information.) Here on Kindle, however, the book is recognised as a book. Hooray! The listings on AmazonUS are for books not bras.

Review: ‘Inside the Seventh Wave’ by GW Hawker

Gothic fiction on Chesil Beach

This unusual novel is primarily peopled by four characters who live in a short terrace of foundationless cottages on the edge of Chesil Beach, on Portland, which is on the Dorset coast of Britain (I explain for American readers who have a Portland of their own in Oregon). At the outset one quickly realises that each character demonstrates different, unlovely facets that exist within us all. We mostly have lovely aspects too, but Hawker puts the extreme edges of who we are here on the page. As the novel develops so too do the characters. Some become people one empathises with and begins to love. Others go over that dark edge. New characters wander onto the island from the mainland, bringing their own darkness and light. Each changes the direction of the book, pulling at and spitting out the original tide-wracked characters who live at the mercy of the sea, and each other.

As I say, the novel is set on the island of Portland – somewhere Hawker knows as well as he knows the profundities of the human character (which is to say: very well indeed). The plot of the book is interspersed with myths and legends of that not-quite-an-island. From the outset (where one learns the importance of the seventh wave) it is a character in its own right. It is an eerie presence. One could say sinister. Could these events happen on the mainland? One doubts it. There is – as with the human characters – much that is lovely about Portland (I live in Weymouth, love the island and go there often). But there is also much that is introspective, mythologised, and (in this novel) dark. The book is not short of malice.

Like the tide coming in, the plot roils and sucks at the lives of the four neighbours, who become increasingly entangled. Some old wounds are re-opened, others are healed. The waters grow deep indeed before the Grand Guignol denouement. To say more would mean spoilers of an unforgiveable nature. I hope, however, I have been able to say enough to tempt you to this unusual book which is both ‘literary fiction’ as far as the attention to characterisation and interaction goes and ‘gothic’ as far as plot is concerned.

Sadly, I have to mention a susurration of typos, grammatical and formatting idiosyncrasies, and an oddly brutal house style. The book looks at the real world, as it were, out of the corner of its eye, so these quirks almost serve to reinforce the strangeness of the tale. Nevertheless, as the world of indie publishing still struggles to be taken seriously by big publishers, ‘serious’ readers and main stream novelists, it is a pity that the high quality writing has been let down in this way. As an indie novelist myself I speak from the heart when I say that, whatever has caused the problems I mention, they let down every one of us. This lovely book has, I know, been entered for the Booker Prize. The excellence of the writing might have taken it far, but I doubt it can find favour in that kind of arena in its current state.

However, despite the idiosyncrasies, infelicities, and the in-your-face font, this is still one of the best novels I have read this year. (The house style is less extreme in the Kindle edition.)

Review: ‘The Naseby Horses’ by Dominic Brownlow

(Review prepared from an uncorrected bound proof)

This fascinating debut novel by Dominic Brownlow joined publisher Louise Walters Books eclectic and growing stable of novels on 5 December 2019. It was gratifying, as a reviewer, to be turned loose on a book in advance of publication. Now it is out I can encourage you to download a Kindle sample soonest. I believe reading the opening event will have you as hooked into this unusual book as I was.

The Naseby Horses is a novel of fluidity. It is set in the Fens, except when it wanders back to old haunts in London. It is set in the stupefying heat of August, except when suddenly the room is cold. Time is the most fluid thing of all (the novel begins on Day Three). Truth is also fluid. And the reader has a mounting sense that everybody is being economical with it.

To say that the narrator is unreliable is to understate. He, Simon, suffers with grand mal fits and the book begins with him coming home from hospital after the worst one yet. There is something of the autistic spectrum about Simon too – he is a meticulous observer and has excellent – if not perfect – recall. Because of his condition and his medication his grip on ‘now’ is often tenuous. His mind, like a butterfly, sometimes doesn’t seem able to distinguish between current events and the many places in the past upon which it alights.

Simon is a twin, and it is not giving away anything that the reader doesn’t learn early doors to say that his last fit coincides with the disappearance of his twin sister, Charlotte. They are twin-close, as if having shared a womb they cannot help but share their lives outside it. Simon wants only to protect her, to follow her, to find her – wherever it is she is lost.

The family has just moved from London to deepest Norfolk, albeit to a village they know well. Charlotte has been vocal that she doesn’t want to leave London. And there is certainly a feeling of Stepford about the village of Glennfield – and not just the wives. There are few other teenagers living there. The twins are thrown upon their own resources a lot of the time while the adults in the mix have their own problems to sort out.

Into the fluid mixture of time and place is added a mystery from the time of Cromwell and the Battle of Naseby. Simons acquires information about this mystery like he does everything else – like a sponge. It quickly begins to trickle through the book like a poison. Is everything connected? Or is, actually, nothing connected except in the mind of an overwhelmed teenager suffering from severe epilepsy?

The authorial voice which drives the story forward is knowledgeable. One felt throughout that none of the characters was telling much of the truth most of the time, but one felt the controlling hand and meticulous research of the author throughout in the way that the historical story, the sense of place, and Simon’s epilepsy are woven through the work.

 

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